One of the things that I really love about Portland is Powell’s Bookstore. The main “City of Books” store is an entire city block downtown. The satellite store out on Hawthorne would put most other bookstores in the shade. So I was excited at the prospect of getting my new novel Jackrabbit into my local Powell’s.
This being Portland, I know a number of other self-published authors, and had gotten mixed messages about how amenable Powell’s was to providing shelf space for local indie authors. My one novelist friend said that they had bought two or three copies, albeit grudgingly. She warned that it was all political, and that you had to know someone to really get them to buy a few extra copies. Another, more optimistic friend said I should just talk to the book buyer, tell him I was a local author, and he’d pick up eight copies, no problem.
I figured I’d try to be official, and call the main business number, and eventually got shunted to a lengthy recording that went on about distribution channels and discount rates and other stuff I didn’t want to deal with. A search through the website resulted in the same message:
This was of no use, so I went by the local Powell’s and talked to the book-buyer on duty. According to my friends who do a little book dealing on the side, Powell’s used to be very generous when it came to buying used books. Then things changed, and they became much more selective about what they bought, and more parsimonious in what they paid. This change in values led to some ugly scenes at the book purchaser desk, and some of the book buyers had to become hard-hearted to be able to do their job. Anyway, the book buyer politely listened to my spiel, and immediately whipped a little leaflet on me with the exact same information as the website and the phone recording, except that is was headered “Dear Author,”
Mentally, I was compelting the sentiment as “Dear Author, Fuck you.” I think it was the snail mail address that drove that point home. Nope, this is so unimportant to us that we’re not even going to bother setting up an email account. Gonna make you waste a stamp.
So I did. What the hell, I’m supposed to be a writer, so I wrote a letter and sent that in. In for a penny, et cetera. I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I would get a response, and was a little bit pissy about it, too. A friend who works at one of the airport Powell’s emailed asking if I had approached Powell’s – “we love our local authors!” she said. Well, ya coulda fooled me, I replied. Like I said, I was pissy.
I’m sure a high-profile bookstore like Powell’s gets approached by numerous self-published writers who want their doggerel in the famous bookstore, and I can understand the need to have some sort of screening process set up to remove the chaff quickly. Still, it would have been nice if there was some bone they’d be willing to throw to us Portland-based scribblers.
Then about a day later, I discovered that Powell’s was already listing Jackrabbit. A friend of mind said she had just received her copy and was looking forward to reading it. When I asked her where she had bought it, she told me that she had ordered it through Powell’s website. I checked, and sure enough, they had the book listed and supposedly had 20 copies sitting in a remote warehouse.
After all the grousing that I had done, turns out Powell’s had been responsible for a sizable chunk of all of the hard copy sales already. How? Amazon. I could tell by the way the description of the book was written that it had come directly from the Amazon website. Then I remembered that I had signed up for something called KDP Expanded Distribution. This allows Amazon to make a book available to booksellers and libraries.
I’m still waiting to see if I will get a reply from my letter. It would be nice if they would actually display the book in one of the brick and mortar stores – preferably the one on Hawthorne with the hard-nosed book buyer. In the meantime, I will just keep flogging the book wherever I can.